July 25, 2014

Do You Need a PDA, CRM or BCM for Contact Management?

First, let’s get the acronyms out of the way.  Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) are calendar and list applications.  It’s your old DayTimer and Rolodex.  Sure, there were project sheets for DayTimers, but no one used them, and Outlook doesn’t have anything like that (unless you build it yourself…).  So Outlook is basically an electronic PDA  that you can search, categorize, etc… with email capability.

A Customer Relation Management (CRM) system is a PDA with those project sheets for deals – or “opportunities” as they’re called.  They’re also “relational” – contacts are linked to appointments, tasks, notes…opportunities…  By looking at a contact, you can see a history of when you met, called, deal info, files and even emails between the two of you.

Business Contact Manager (BCM) turns Outlook into a CRM….like Act!…or Client Look…or Salesforce.com.  You don’t need to pay extra for anything else. Finally – it’s all right there in the app you’ve always used!

Not so fast…  Before you pick an application…or assess the one you have, there are some other things to consider:  mobility and access.  Here’s a run-down of how typical apps commercial agents use stack up.

Outlook – the PDA
Don’t care about relations?  Okay with searching through emails, tasks, calendar items?  Then forget the CRM stuff.  Outlook in this format syncs almost universally with every cell phone, most webmail systems, Office Live and a host of other online apps.

Email sync is another issue.  Unless you’re using Exchange or other IMAP/MAPI system, you’ll need to carefully configure your cell phone to keep messages on the server so they can be downloaded to Outlook later – and watch for the cell phone option to delete emails from the server after you have deleted emails from you cell phone. If sending emails from your cell that you need a copy of, CC yourself.  Some phones even have an option to automatically do this.

And watch out for the email sync option for Outlook – you delete something from your phone…it’ll be gone from Outlook next time you sync.  I’ve seen plenty of agents trying to clean up their cell phone only to find everything they expected to be in Outlook disappears after a sync…

To keep Outlook organized on multiple computers, there are various syncing tools (none of which I have used, so can’t recommend…).  These tools usually automate copying your Outlook pst (and various other files Outlook uses) between your computers.  Otherwise, this is a DIY operation.

Outlook with BCM
You can still take the PDA type data with you…and the email issues are the same as above, but the relationship info is only accessible on your computer so if you want access while on the road, you can set up a VPN/remote access (like gotomyPC)  from another computer – or even your cell phone in some cases – to your “host” computer.  If you’re host computer is in on an office network, check with your tech department about setting up VPN access or using gotoMyPC.  Security and/or power issues (some buildings require all electronics turned off at night) have to be considered.

If you can’t get at your host computer remotely, the only other option is to install the app on a computer at home which you can access remotely when on the road or use a laptop.  Note on pst file synching.  BCM data is in a different database and I have not seen a tool that will sync pst files (for email and your PDA type data…) and BCM files.  A laptop is looking good right now, huh?

Act! CRM
Sage has finally gotten its Act! together (yeah…I had to say that….).  Outlook is finally fully integrated, plus, for versions 2010 and above, you can subscribe to Act! Mobile Live, a service that almost completely mirrors your Act! desktop data (you’ll still need to use the desktop app for marketing functions and reporting).  Now you can access historical data from any location via a web browser instead of having multiple installations of Act! and/or using a remote applications to access your host computer.

As for syncing with cell phones, the easiest way to sync with Act! has always been to use CompanionLink.  Depending on the version you get, you can even sync limited historical information for contacts -  and it works for any mobile OS.  The Live app will sync with your desktop and with Windows based cell phones and Blackberry. According to their website, iPhone/iPad functionality is “coming soon.”  For Android or other mobile OSs, sync your device with Act! locally first, then with the Live app.   About the only thing that’s missing is online collaboration and file storage but for many agents, that’s not important.

Note to Act 6 users – it’s time to give it up!  The problems with the new database format and Outlook integration are fixed.

Hosted/Web-based/SaaS/Cloud Apps
I’m not going to get into the technical explanation of these often misused terms, but they’re basically all the same.  The application and/or the data are in a remote location and you access it via your web browser or cell phone app (or cell phone browser).  Some people get a little spooked by this – everyone remembers the stories about Salesforce.com going down or GoogleApps’ security breaches.  What makes these appealing, though, is that you have little to install or upgrade and you can get at your data from any location.  Most also offer a way to export at least PDA type data for backup or migration purposes.

There are many to choose from including Salesforce.com, Google Apps, HyperOffice, Zoho and a specific to real estate app called Client Look.  If you’re starting from scratch or an Outlook as PDA user, take a look at these.  Features vary including syncing options and availability of mobile apps but most of these include collaboration abilities.  Google is free and the others charge subscription fees.  Not all are “relational” but even if they’re not, there may be other options for project/deal management. Old emails can be migrated to some of these, but not so for others.  Some include marketing features like email lists or have activity or other reports.

If you’re an Act or Outlook with BCM user, getting your historical data into one of these apps is difficult if not impossible.  Salesforce.com offers some options but you’ll either have to subscribe to a more expensive plan and/or pay for conversion.  But if you’re starting from scratch, need remote capability and online collaboration, these are relatively trouble-free options that can get you organized quickly.